Don’t de-Word the Pledge
By Hans Zeiger
On my first day of kindergarten, I learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance. To the right of the classroom was a Sesame Street Big Bird poster, and Mrs. Nelson instructed us to point to Big Bird with our right hand as a reminder of which hand we were supposed to then place over our hearts. Some of my peers who entered kindergarten with me that day in 1990 have since renounced the Pledge and refuse to say it because they hate God or America, or both.
I recall one day in high school arguing with a girl, who had multiple piercings and tattoos, about her objections to the Pledge of Allegiance. “It robs me of my individuality,” she said, “and besides, this is a free country.”
Free indeed, until we remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard the oral arguments in atheist Michael Newdow’s case alleging that his daughter’s First Amendment rights were violated when she was required to say “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance at her California school. The high court will soon decide whether it is appropriate for school children to acknowledge God while pledging to the flag.
Should the court de-Word the pledge, so to speak, it would become meaningless. For the liberty, justice, indivisibility, and republican government wherewith we claim our national identity is grounded in the recognition that it all comes from God.
Thomas Jefferson, even as a supposed deist, acknowledged the indelible link between recognition of God and human liberty. “God who gave us life gave us liberty,” said Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia. “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?” Jefferson, though hardly a Christian fundamentalist, was an absolutist on this matter of the source of liberty.
Jefferson knew that whether we like it or not, we are one nation under God. That is not negotiable. We cannot by ignorance do away with God. He cannot be confined to a foreign land or a distant universe, nor can we rise above God. He is higher than all of Creation. And whether or not we actually recognize our subjection to the Almighty is immaterial to the actual fact of God’s sovereignty.
But whether we recognize God very much impacts the security of our own freedom. In order to obtain the gifts of liberty, we must be receptive to the Giver. It is a premise undisputed in all of the founding documents of America that God is the source of freedom. And if God gives liberty, it is to Him that we are responsible as stewards of that liberty.
More than freedom, the “under God” question deals with responsibility. From where do we get our freedom? To whom are we accountable?
It might be argued that in a pluralistic society, it is perfectly all right for atheists and agnostics to hold their own negative views about the answers to eternal questions and the existence of God. But if Jefferson is right, if recognition of God is the only sure foundation of freedom, spirituality is more than private; it is intensely public. Faith in
God is the only way we can survive the common experience of humanity both with the satisfaction of ordered liberty on earth and hope in eternity.
Americans may not be very faithful these days, but Michael Newdow can't speak for us. An Associated Press poll shows that 9 of 10 citizens support “under God” in the pledge. That’s 9 of 10 Americans who would disregard the Supreme Court when they utter the words “under God,” as they no doubt would if the Pledge is de-Worded. It would be the largest case of civil disobedience in American history.